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Frank's travels around Britain 2008.

Winchester Area.

This time I stayed in the lodge at the Chieveley service station. Not one of their best, it really needs a revamp. Once again I managed to grab some sunshine! How do I do it? The journey down, under grey  skies, made me think that my luck was going to change.

The city of Winchester is not really a beautiful place but it is packed with history. It could be any town in modern Britain with upmarket multiple  shops, multi-storey car parks & a few vagrants looking for coppers to feed their un-stated habits. History & beauty seemed to be in one area of the city. The very square cathedral looked good in the sunshine and the Wolvesey Castle, under the care of English Heritage, was free to look round, what a wonderful change in rip-off Britain!

On these trips, I always seem to come across a little nugget. This trip it was William Walker M.V.O. To come across a bust of a man in a drivers suit from the 1900s, in a city a long way from the sea, with the annotation "Who saved the Cathedral with his own hands 1906-1911" was bound to rise the curiosity! On Wikipedia, I found this amazing story

"In his time, William Walker was the most experienced diver of Siebe Gorman Ltd. Working in water up to a depth of 6 m between 1906-1911, he shored up the Cathedral using more than 25,000 bags of concrete, 115,000 concrete blocks and 900,000 bricks! Prior to his work, the Cathedral had been in imminent danger of collapse as it slowly sank into the ground, which consisted of peat. To enable bricklayers to build supporting walls, the groundwater level had to be lowered. Normally, the removal of the groundwater would have caused the collapse of the building. So to give temporary support to the foundation walls some 235 pits were dug out along the southern and eastern sides of the building, each about six metres deep. Walker went down and shored up the walls by putting concrete underneath them. He worked for 6 hours a day over six years, in complete darkness  because of the sediment.

His full name was William Robert, he was six feet tall and weighing 14 stone. His regular attendant, operating the vital air pump was William West. For almost six years, from April 1906 - September 1911, Bill spent up to six hours a day in narrow waterlogged pits and drifts dug up to 24 feet under the Cathedral walls,  small bags of concrete were laid in four to eight courses, like brickwork. Once in position, each layer was split open - so it would bond with the next. On completion the water could safely be pumped out and ordinary workmen finished the course to the underside of the walls. Approximately 235 such excavations were carried out..

For his outstanding feat, Walker was honoured with the title " Member of the Royal Victorian Order". Astonishingly, after this almost unbelievable effort in saving a church that goes back to the year 642, which was the capital of England and the centre of King Alfreds kingdom, this man was given an order that is the second-most junior order of chivalry in the British honours system (in terms of both age and precedence) & he held the lowest class in an order that includes five classes! He died during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. To add insult to injury, there was a complete cock up on a statue that was meant to be of Bill & the story of that alone, is worth a read!

There is a huge statue of King Alfred (or as it was spelt on the plinth, Aelfred). This is the king of the southern Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex from 871 to 899. The one, who according to legend, burnt the cakes of a peasant women. I can remember being told this story at school. I think it was used it illustrate that even a King or great leader should acknowledge, to even a humble peasant,  when he was wrong. I also noticed that the teachers & leaders I knew, seldom took their own advice! We are now in the era of "Danegelt" A tax levied in England from the 10th to the 12th century to finance protection against Danish invasion. The Vikings dominated England, Scotland, and Ireland for a couple of centuries, in the case of Britain from 787 to the Norman Conquest in 1066. Aelfred was the fifth child of Ethelwulf, King of Wessex and Queen Osburgh. His early life was spent mostly in the court of his parents, and he was much influenced by them in matters of learning and religion. Ethelwulf, before acceding to the throne of Wessex, was educated at the Old Minster in Winchester, by Bishop Swithun.

Saint Swithun (died 2 July 862) was an early English Bishop of Winchester, now best known for the popular British weather lore proverb that if it rains on Saint Swithun's day, 15 July, it will rain for 40 days and 40 nights. Swithun was buried out of doors, rather than in his cathedral, apparently at his own request, so that the "sweet rain of heaven" could fall on his grave. Popular legend insists that the monks tried to move Swithun inside the Old Minster, some nine years after his death. The saint, however, did not approve of his removal from exposure to the elements. There was a clap of thunder and it began to rain for forty days and forty nights! I just love the thought that that could be true!

After passing through the old part of town I saw the house Jane Austin lived in and was her final home. Jane's funeral was held in Winchester Cathedral and she was buried in the north aisle. Just as her novels were published anonymously, the inscription on her tomb makes no mention of her literary talents. The signs I followed led me to Wolvesey Castle, a ruined castle behind the Cathedral. It was erected by the Bishop of Winchester Henry of Blois between 1130 and 1140. Begun as a 12th-century Norman keep and bailey castle, the palace was the chief residence of the Bishops of Winchester. It was once a very important building, and was the location on July 25, 1554 of the wedding breakfast of Queen Mary and Philip II of Spain. The castle destruction was helped by Roundheads during the English Civil War in 1646.

This trip was soon after the clocks had changed. Being nearly 70, slightly stupid and in bright sunshine I decided to visit Beacon Hill. Only 261 metres high! I thought it was a great chance to photograph the lovely countryside. Sometime around 7pm, I found myself out of breath, pounding heart & burning muscles being passed by some 40 year olds who were smoking a fags half way up this "hill"! Beacon Hill is near the village of Burghclere, in north Hampshire. The hill's name is derived from the fact that it was once the site of the most famous beacon in Hampshire and has one of England's most well known hill forts on its slopes. I made it half way up, decided I needed food & rest more than an early death through exhaustion and contented myself with a "half way up Beacon Hill" photograph. I took the shadow of me to prove that I made it, in case I passed away on the return to the car!

The next day was bright but overcast with an odd shower. It was still very nice but the dullness took the punch out of the photographs. The towns were for passing by & the villages are now the typical pretty, middle class ghettoes and devoid of any sign of life. No one walks around, there are no shops and they lock their churches. (to be fair, the days of churches you can go inside are passed).

Looking round for photographs, I found The Vyne. A 16th-century house, dating back to Henry VIII's reign. It would have been lovely to record in the sunshine. perhaps a little to early to show the garden at its best. The lack of sunshine deadened the reflections in the water but its a very pleasant place. I think I am ruined by Castle Combe, Rye & the Cotswolds. This area is for the rich to live in & commute to their money fountains. Its for passing through, not for anyone looking for eye candy.

The Vyne was built for Lord Sandys, King Henry VIII's Lord Chamberlain. The house retains its Tudor chapel, with stained glass. During the Civil War the house was a Parliamentarian stronghold. In the mid-18th century.  The Vyne belonged to Horace Walpole's close friend John Chaloner Chute who bought it around 1653. He added the classical portico on the north front in 1654, designed by Inigo Jones's pupil John Webb.

The whole place looks like its been lived in, lots of changes & a slightly scruffy look. The National Trust seem to be trying to be so modern with low carbon footprint toilets & the recycling of water, while the huge house they are trying to preserve for the future has heating costs must be crippling & have the carbon footprint of modern housing estate. Each year a number of concerts, plays and family events are run. Looking at the prices, I could see only the rich can afford to attend. Hold your wedding here & you can show the world your standing. "One was married at a place Henry VIII visited several times and Elizabeth I was also a visitor". The lakes & garden is very nice. I love the reflections you can get in water. The light was just dulling it all down. I do like the way the National trust encourages nature, makes such lovely walks & preserves our heritage. I just sag at the costs of it all.

Links for information on this page:

The Cathedral

Bill Walker's statue

King Alfred's story

St. Swithun's shrine

Wolvesey Castle

The Vyne